Catalyzing Transformation for Purposeful Whole System Change

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Sandra Waddock

A discussion about system transformation and purposeful change,  exploring how individuals can catalyze impactful initiatives for transformative well-being

There is a good deal of literature about system transformation these days, much of which focuses on what needs to change and describes what the system undergoing change looks like, as well as some of its key characteristics. Building on the work of the Bounce Beyond initiative, this talk provides an overview of a generalized process that describes how purposeful system change can be brought about through the work of individuals and groups working as transformation catalysts to steward effective transformation systems as cohered collections of initiatives with shared aspirations to achieve transformative change towards wellbeing for both humans and the rest of the natural world.

Catalyzing transformative system change is fundamentally about working collectively, cogeneratively, as well as independently in aligned ways to overcome the fragmentation of blessed unrest, so that together we can build the world so many of us really want. (Waddock, 2024, p. 15)

Sandra Waddock is the Galligan Chair of Strategy at the Carroll School of Corporate Responsibility and Professor of Management at the Boston College Carroll School of Management. She has written extensively on systemic change over many years, published more than 180 papers and 16 books, participated as a steward with the Bounce Beyond Initiative for three years, and is a member of the GANE (Global Assessment for a New Economics) team, and an ongoing IPBES assessment on transformative change. Her latest book Catalyzing Transformation (Business Expert Press, 2024) synthesizes the process Sandra discusses in her talk.

Catalysing Transformation book cover is a tree with a dreamcatcher-web

Catalyzing Transformation

from What Transformation Catalysts Do to Catalyze System Change

Transformation Catalysts (TCs) are a new way of organizing to achieve system change not in a direct way but through catalytic actions. Similar to chemical catalyst, which brings about a reaction or state change but does not necessarily change itself, a social catalyst is someone or a group that precipitates events — or makes change happen. Social catalysts typically operate in complex environments and aim to tackle what are known as wicked problems. TCs similarly operate in wicked complexity, attempting to align numerous different activities and actions into greater effectiveness. —Sandra Waddock, Ju Young Lee, and Steve Waddell

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